From despair to dignity

In Rwanda, April 1994 and April 2014 represent two extremes. For those who experienced the April 1994 Genocide that systematically claimed more than a million Tutsi, the way the country has been able to recover its unity, dignity and prosperity within 20 years is unimaginable. 
Dr. Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi
Dr. Pierre-Damien Habumuremyi

In Rwanda, April 1994 and April 2014 represent two extremes. For those who experienced the April 1994 Genocide that systematically claimed more than a million Tutsi, the way the country has been able to recover its unity, dignity and prosperity within 20 years is unimaginable. 

The scale of atrocities committed against Tutsi by their fellow Hutu citizens remains vivid in the collective memory of the Rwandan society. Today, we remember with bitterness, the victims of the killing machine manipulated by supporters and cronies of the regime of President Juvenal Habyarimana. 

At the same time, Rwanda is proud that it did not perish. Instead, under the guidance of innovative political leaders, driven by the philosophy of political inclusiveness, the country not only rebuilt herself, it also reconciled. 

It is not a miracle as many would claim, but rather a result of deliberate commitment of the post-genocide leadership, determined to shape Rwanda into a reconciled, inclusive and resilient society. 

To sustain what we achieved from scratch, we must always be mindful of our history and learn from it.

Rwanda of April to July 1994 was a history of sadness. The 1994 Genocide against Tutsi was not spontaneous. It was tried in different Tutsi killings starting in 1960s.

The 1994 Genocide against Tutsi was the apocalypse predicted by Col. Theoneste Bagosora in August 1993. On 6 April, 1994 at around 8:00pm, immediately after the announcement of the crash of the plane carrying President Habyarimana, in the capital Kigali killings started targeting Tutsi who had been recorded on pre-established lists and Hutu politicians considered to be pro-RPF.

That same night, in executing the plan to eliminate Tutsi, a statement from the high command of the army, imposed a curfew and implored everyone to remain at home. 

Subsequently, meetings to mobilise mass Hutu peasants to participate in hunting down of Tutsi were organised by civil and military authorities from high ranking civil and military authorities to village leaders commonly known as Nyumbakumi.

To ensure that no Tutsi survived, roadblocks were set up and manned by Interahamwe militia trained for this purpose. Tutsi of all ages, from infants to elderly died a horrible death.

They were killed either by machetes, clubs, or sharpened wood sticks; others pleaded to pay to be killed by bullet. Formerly sacred places such as churches and places of worship were transformed into human abattoirs, sometimes with the complicity of the so-called ordained shepherds.

The Genocide against Tutsi is the most horrendous crime of the century; neighbours who had lived peacefully together in the same villages turned into wolves that eliminated their neighbours because they were born Tutsi. 

Spouses killed their partners, parents killed their children and vice versa, either deliberately or through coercion from their neighbours, because they were thought to be somehow related to Tutsi. 

Bodies of victims were thrown in mass graves and septic tanks or floated on lakes and rivers while others were piled in the streets across the country. Human evil had exceeded the limits of understanding. Hutu killers were recruited from all classes, from peasants to intellectuals, and included political and military leaders.

In fact, the period from April to July 1994 is the darkest of the Rwandan history. The world had abandoned our country especially the UN and the hegemonic powers who claim to be defenders of democracy and human rights. 

It took the determination of the sons and daughters of this country, the real patriots, to stop the Genocide, secure, unify and reconcile the country. 

The country survived thanks to the coordinated action of the RPF and its armed wing, the RPA under the command of General Paul Kagame. 

The 1994 Genocide left the country completely ruined with over one million Tutsi killed and thousands of orphans and Genocide widows in total despair. The country’s social fabric was destroyed. 

Over two million people, mainly Hutu, lived in refugee camps scattered in neighbouring countries at the mercy of Interahamwe militia and defeated Rwandan army, both responsible for the Genocide.

Almost all these refugees were repatriated. However, there are remnants of Interahamwe and ex-Far that formed criminal alliances with intent destabilise the country and their actions do sometimes claim victims among civilians and innocent people. 

This side is represented by FDLR, a terrorist organisation and by the so-called opposition political parties which are eager to come back to power. These groups operate outside the country with the support of several individuals and organisations with a hidden agenda against Rwanda. 

But the Rwandan people and its leaders are well aware and stand mobilised and united to ensure that all these negative forces do not cause any harm.

Considering Rwanda’s situation after the 1994 Genocide, nobody thought the country would recover from the devastation caused by Genocide and still shape its identity as a reconciled, dynamic and respected society. 

It is through the patriotism and sacrifice of new leaders under the guidance of President Paul Kagame, that Rwanda is now a living environment for all Rwandans, a nation determined to fight poverty and dependency in all its forms. 

Most telling of all, the Rwanda Reconciliation Barometer shows that over 85% of Rwandans maintain that the unity and reconciliation policy is well implemented in the socio-economic life of the communities; this is an indication that people live in harmony. The impunity which characterised the Rwandan society disappeared to pave way to the state of social justice. 

Gacaca courts tried 1,958,634 cases of Genocide suspects within 10 years spending around $52 million compared to only 52 cases tried by the ICTR within a period of 17 years at a cost of $20 billion. 

Rwandans’ living conditions have improved considerably: life expectancy at birth increased from 39 to 64.5, while the GDP per capita income grew from $185 to $693. 

To ensure better living conditions to all Rwandans, the Government helped more than 150,000 families who lived in grass-thatched houses while 180,000 households were given a cow as a source of income. 

Contrary to the policy of exclusion implemented against Tutsi by the previous political regimes, access to 12 years basic education is guaranteed to all children. 

All the Rwandans get basic medical care through community-based health insurance schemes and the Government pays subscriptions for over two million people from poor families. 

Every year, over 300,000 households benefit from the poverty reduction programme through small income generating projects, high intensity labour and direct financial support to the elderly people or the disabled. Thanks to this policy, within only five years, over one million people managed to rise above the poverty line and have now reached economic sustainability. 

The Rwandan woman has regained her legitimate place in rebuilding the country as evidenced by her presence in decision making positions and her role in the country’s socioeconomic life. 

Globally, Rwanda is the 1st country worldwide with a big number of women in Parliament where women represent more than 64% in the Chamber of Deputies and more than 35% in other administrative organs such as Cabinet and local government. 

Rwanda’s performance at both regional and global level is evident in several areas. In the region, Rwanda ranks 1st and 49th globally in the fight against corruption. 

It is 1st as the most secure country (2013 Gallup report); 2nd in Sub-Saharan Africa and 32nd Worldwide in 2014 doing business and ranking 1st as the country which has implemented the most economic reforms. 

Rwanda’s foreign policy is based on mutual respect and preservation of the supreme interest of its people. Rwandans understand the relevance of self-reliance and have overwhelmingly responded to the call of establishing Agaciro Development Fund, a national prosperity fund whose contributions currently exceed 21.7 billion Rwandan francs. 

In short, if twenty years on, Rwandans remember the tragedy of Genocide that befell their country, there is also a reason to rejoice. This is the very same people, together with its new leadership engineered by RPF and its Chairman Paul Kagame, who shape its destiny. 

For future generations are reconciled, prosperous and resilient Rwanda is ensured. As stated by Paul Kagame, “The body of Rwanda was tortured, assaulted, and succumbed but the spirit never died. Rwanda will not perish for a second time”.

Let us remember, unite and renew.

The writer is the Prime Minister, Republic of Rwanda


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